Cures and Quackery: The Rise of Patent Medicines
1880-1900, 19th century
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Mount-Duckett
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Mortar and pestle (2)
Keys to History
Throughout the 19th century, many medicines were prepared with unsophisticated means by druggists (pharmacists), doctors, apothecary nuns and manufacturers of proprietary medicines.
Medical treatises and closely guarded recipes gave the ingredients, dosage and effects of the various preparations - powders, pills, pastilles, syrups, unguents, balms, pomades, etc. - which might be ordered by doctors or self-prescribed.
The medicine maker's basic tool was a marble or metal mortar for grinding plants, minerals and animal parts. Once reduced to powder, these ingredients served as a base for countless varieties of commercial remedies. The mortar and pestle has long been a symbol of the apothecary trade.
Traité élémentaire de matière médicale et guide pratique des soeurs de charité de l'Asile de la Providence (Montreal: Imprimerie de la Providence, 1890), pp. 748, 799, 812-813.
Ceramic mortar. The pestle is made of ceramic and wood.
Mortars were used everywhere medicines were prepared: pharmacies, doctors' offices, small pharmaceutical companies, etc.
This mortar was made in the late 19th century. Metal mortars were found to be most durable and gradually replaced the marble versions.
The mortar and pestle were indispensable to the work of pharmacists, doctors and makers of secret remedies.